A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
1. Try to learn Dutch:
Dutch is notoriously difficult to grasp. Its grammar is complicated and its expressions are subtle. It has a unique beauty, but let’s face it, the language is unnecessary for the majority of your day to day interactions. Outside the Netherlands, you’ll never need to speak Dutch. The Dutch are well aware of this – no checkout attendant has let their day be slowed listening to your ignorant confusion of tenses.
However, Dutch culture is in Dutch. If you plan to stay long enough to understand why Bami and Nasi are always the last borrel snacks left on the platter, learning Dutch is a necessity. Do not expect to master it quickly. (You will, however, quickly exceed the mastery of your international friends. This makes you more attractive in potential mating situations – see Pelibar.)
A genuine interest in the culture means a concerted effort in its difficult language. Try.
2. Get Dutch health insurance:
The Dutch health system is excellent. It frequently ranks amongst the highest in the world. However, using Dutch huisarts – the General Practitioner responsible for managing all aspects of your health – requires local health insurance. This insurance may seem comparatively expensive, but it is quite inclusive. One firm offers discounts for Leiden University staff and students.
Pay it. Use it. Health is a priority.
3. Cycle. Everywhere:
Holland is flat, and consciously designed for cycling. Owning and maintaining a bicycle are essential for a smooth life here. (Check out The Leidener’s other posts about the Dutch cycle culture). Plus, it’s free.
Exploring the country by cycling is made easy by the LF Route system. These routes snake the country and they are totally connected. They pass through Leiden, meaning you can plan a route from here to…anywhere!
You can also take your bike on the NS trains (outside peak hours; folding bikes are free), meaning you can explore the whole country on your own bike.
However, if you plan to stay in the country, absolutely register for the OV-fiets program. (A separate post will come in the coming months about this! You must first register for a personal OV card.) Hire one or two bikes for EUR3.35 each per day. You can pick them up from 250 locations in the country and hold them for 24hrs.
4. Become part of your community, small and large:
Diverse experiences are available to you in this city. Getting involved in them requires a little effort and a little patience, but deepens your understanding of your environment and Dutch culture.
Check the Uitagenda regularly to get a broad scope of what’s happening in your city, and try something. There are really no limits to what you can do. Join a garden, a jazz band, a football club, a poetry troupe. Start something new?
Get a Museumkaart. 60EUR gets you a year of mostly-free museum admissions. If you visit anything in Amsterdam, you will be glad to be able to book ahead without having to pay.
Consider a Dutch Sim. Hopping from wi-fi zone to wi-fi zone may save you a lot of money, but may be outweighed by frustration over the course of a year. Plus, being able to connect to the internet is so useful when travelling around the country.
Get a sports membership. If you play sport, like to use a gym, a pool, a sports-hall, do yoga, want to learn to dance, to row, to play tennis, to play basketball, to play badminton or football, getting a year subscription to the USC is a must. About EUR157 for the year.
You can explore the Netherlands no matter how long you are staying, but living here for a year or more allows to see the country in each season’s varied colours.
The Dutch are celebration-orientated, and staying for a year means seeing each time of the year’s associated themed parties, colour-coordinated events, and [fried starch variations]. Highlights include The Leidse Onzet (3rd October), Sinterklaus’ coming, Konigsdag (27 April), and Leiden’s firework displays on New Years. There are also festivals for films, food, and sport.
Additionally, towns throughout the Netherlands have geographically specific festivals and are easily accessible by train – see some here. Look up a seasonal calendar and use organised events as motivation to do some sightseeing!